Among his assertions were that anyone who reported a paedophile would be responsible if the pedophile was raped in prison. He also said abuse should be dealt with, when legally possible, outside the legal system.
Rabbi ‘should step down’
JOSHUA LEVI • Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
“I really don’t understand why as soon as something of serious loshon horo (evil talk) is heard about someone of even child molestation should we immediately go to the secular authorities (sic).” Rabbi Yosef Feldman President, RCNSW
SYDNEY’S top rabbi has been urged to resign after he said it should be up to rabbis to decide whether allegations of child abuse should be reported to police.
In a series of emails that contradicted the recommendations from other rabbinical authorities around Australia in the wake of claims of abuse at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College, Rabbinical Council of NSW (RCNSW) president Rabbi Yosef Feldman outlined his views to fellow members of the rabbinate.
Among his assertions were that anyone who reported a paedophile would be responsible if the paedophile was raped in prison.
He also said abuse should be dealt with, when legally possible, outside the Australian legal system.
“I really don’t understand why as soon as something of serious loshon horo (evil talk) is heard about someone of even child molestation should we immediately go to the secular authorities (sic),” Rabbi Feldman wrote.
“One must go to a Rov (rabbi) who should firstly investigate the veracity of the complaint and if thought to be serious, warn the culprit etc. and act in a way that could scare him by threatening him with publicity by internet to the whole community.”
He added: “I personally feel that if we as a Jewish leadership can’t deal with this and other issues bifnim (internally) we are showing ourselves to be impotent ...”
When contacted by The AJN this week, Rabbi Feldman didn’t back down.
He said that if there is no legal obligation to report abuse and the rabbi believed the perpetrator would not reoffend, then there was no need to call the police.
“If there is a grey area then we have to look at the Jewish perspective and the human rights of the aggressor. It is not only the victim that he (the rabbi) has to think of, because in this case he also has to think of the attacker.”
In light of Rabbi Feldman’s emails, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) Rabbi Dovid Freilich told The AJN: “He should step down now. He is halachically wrong and the statement is abhorred. When it comes to molestation and child abuse it is a mitzvah to go right to the authorities – 100 per cent.”
The sentiment was echoed by Manny Waks, the head of Canberra’s Jewish community, who alleged this month that he was a victim of sexually abuse at Yeshivah College in the early 1990s. He described the comments as “immoral” and “unethical”.
“Contrary to what the rabbi says, there is no grey area in this case. There are victims and there are perpetrators.
“Rabbi Feldman should immediately clarify his remarks publicly, and if he still stands by them then his colleagues should ask him to tender his resignation immediately,” Waks said.
Adding his voice to the chorus of disapproval, the Sydney Beth Din’s Rabbi Moshe Gutnick said Rabbi Feldman was “out of touch with the view of society”.
“He is out of touch with the views of rabbinic Judaism. I dissociate myself with them as should every observant Jew,” Rabbi Gutnick said.
The RCNSW met on Tuesday morning to discuss the issue.
“One rabbi suggested that I should stand down,” Rabbi Feldman said. “He was not listened to and I had overwhelming support.”
The council did, however, express its unanimous adoption of a motion passed by the Rabbinical Council of Victoria condemning all forms of child abuse and affirming “its halachic position” that prohibitions of reporting such crimes to the civil authorities “do not apply in cases of abuse”.
In a statement, Rabbi Feldman said: “I would like to unequivocally publicise my support and encouragement of the adoption of that resolution within the NSW rabbinate and the wider Jewish community.”
However, on Wednesday he told The AJN: “My opinion is that we [rabbis] should determine if there was actual abuse, then call the police. The statement from the rabbinic council does not specify this and I believe it does not contradict my view.”
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Yair Miller said the email exchange was disturbing, but noted the RCNSW’s decision.
“It would be entirely unacceptable and unbefitting any rabbi, even in an abstract discussion, to canvass the theoretical possibility of not reporting allegations of serious criminality to the police,” he said. “What is more important, however, is that that possibility has been unanimously and unreservedly rejected by all members of that council.”
In a joint statement issued yesterday, ORA, the Melbourne Beth Din and the Sydney Beth Din said: “There is no halachic impediment to conveying all credible information regarding such matters to the police or relevant authorities, but to the contrary, it is halachically obligatory to do so.
“The obligation applies not only to mandatory reporters but to all who become aware that abuse is taking place.”
Rabbi Feldman is from a prominent Chabad family. But so is Rabbi Gutnick. Make of that what you will.
Update 8:40 pm CDT – Rabbi Feldman sent the follwoing email to his email list today in response to the above article:
From: Yeshiva Shul <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 8:58 AM
Subject: Statement from Rabbi Yosef Feldman in relation to article in the AJN
To: yeshivashul <email@example.com>
I would like to put on the record that from my perspective the Australian Jewish News coverage in issue dated 29/7/11 misquoted, misconstrued and misrepresented my comments from an in internal Halachic debate amongst the Rabbinate of Australia relating to the serious and reprehensible issues of Child abuse and the appropriate response. I reserve all of my Halachic and Legal rights in relation to this matter which constitutes in my opinion no less than character assassination at the highest level. Today I will be consulting with a senior defamation Lawyer in relation to what I believe is an outrageous travesty, and exploring all available options including Beth Din or court proceedings to remedy the matter.
I quote the beginning of the article which says that, "Among his assertions were that anyone who reported a paedophile would be responsible if the paedophile was raped in prison." I never made such an unqualified assertion in relation to a convicted paedophile. This and other serious matters arising from the coverage will be pursued vigorously.
I would also like to make abundantly clear that the Rabbinate of NSW under my Presidency and encouragement has unequivocally and unanimously endorsed a resolution condemning all forms of child abuse and recommends the reporting of such to the relevant secular authorities.
I also emphatically endorse the joint statement on this matter publicised by ORA (The Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia) the Melbourne Beth Din and the Sydney Beth Din, which states that there is no Halachic impediment to conveying all credible information regarding such matters to the police or relevant authorities, but to the contrary, it is Halachically obligatory to do so. The obligation applies not only to mandatory reporters but to all who become aware that abuse is taking place.
The Jewish News has called for my resignation as President of RCNSW.
My response is that as a result of what I and others believe to be their unprofessional recklessness, in my personal capacity I call for the immediate resignations of both AJN National Editor Zeddy Lawrence and article author Josh Levi, before they cause further damage to myself, the Sydney Rabbinate and the Jewish community.
Rabbi Yosef Feldman
Update 3:25 am CDT 7-28-11– Here's a press release from the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Australia about Rabbi Feldman:
Thursday July 28, 2011
26 Tammuz 5771
כ"ו תמוז ה' אלפים תשע"א
COSA PRESS RELEASE
The Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Australia (“COSA”) unequivocally disassociates itself from the views expressed by Rabbi Yossi Feldman concerning the reporting of sexual offenders to the police, as reported in the Australian Jewish News (July 28 edition).
Furthermore COSA wholeheartedly endorses the position recently enunciated by the Organisation of Rabbis of Australia (“ORA”) and its affiliates as to the positive obligation, according to both halachic and secular law, to report any such offences to the authorities.
COSA urges all its State constituent bodies to ensure that the guidelines issued by ORA are adhered to by their Rabbis and leaders.
It is COSA’s unqualified position that any person who holds a view contrary is deemed not fit and proper to assume any form of leadership in our community.
Meanwhile, a prominent Australian law firm is ofering free advice on sex abuse:
Law firm offers free advice on sex-abuse claims
Jewel Topsfield • The Age
PROMINENT human rights lawyer George Newhouse has offered to give free legal advice to alleged victims of sexual abuse at Yeshivah College over whether they can sue for damages.
Mr Newhouse and Shine Lawyers - who have acted for dozens of people in high-profile sex abuse cases against the Anglican Church - have assembled an expert team to work with the alleged victims in the Jewish community.
Mr Newhouse said the legal team was separate from any criminal proceedings that might arise.
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''The most common avenue is for a civil case to be brought against the perpetrator and the perpetrator's employer for damages for assault, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence,'' he said.
Police are investigating alleged assaults at Yeshivah College in St Kilda East, including claims against former Jewish studies teacher David Kramer, who fled Australia in the early 1990s after parents complained he had sexually abused boys.
Yeshivah College, which did not report the complaints to police, was accused of covering up the scandal.
Mr Newhouse said the most important issue in bringing a civil claim was that strict time limits applied. ''Often well-meaning people do nothing while they await the outcomes of criminal action,'' he said.
''Later when they decide to make a claim, they discover they have a time limitation problem.''
Mr Newhouse represented Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon, who was awarded about $4.5 million in compensation in 2006, after she was unlawfully removed to the Philippines when an immigration officer wrongly presumed she was a sex slave and an illegal immigrant.
He said he asked Shine Lawyers to help with the Yeshivah allegations because they had been involved in prosecuting civil cases for sexual assaults at schools including Brisbane Grammar School, St Paul's School and Brisbane Boys College. In 2001, Shine Lawyers acted for a former schoolgirl at Toowoomba Preparatory School who was abused by a boarding house master.
The case led to a record $834,000 payout and the resignation of former governor-general Peter Hollingworth, who was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane at the time.
Shine Lawyers partner Stephen Roche said his experience of sex abuse cases suggested the patterns of behaviour were usually quite similar. ''For example, in many cases there is usually a denial by the institution that it had any knowledge of any impropriety,'' he said.
''Of course, the onus is on the victim to prove that the school or institution knew, or ought to have known, that the abuse was occurring. In some cases they knew and did nothing. In many cases they ought to have known and chose to ignore the obvious signs.''
Jewish community leader Manny Waks, who was allegedly abused while a student at Yeshivah College, said his mind was focused solely on any criminal case that would result in an arrest.
''My primary motives in going public about this is to obtain justice for the victims, including for those who are still hesitating to go to the police,'' Mr Waks said. He welcomed any support that a law firm would be willing to offer victims and their families.